10 ways to keep fit and healthy over the winter months

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The onset of winter shouldn’t mean you wind up in bed with a runny nose and a subscription to Lemsip. Here’s how to stay well over the colder months

Being proactive about your health makes it more likely you will make it through the colder months cold and flu-free. These top ten health professional tips can boost your health and help you stay fit and well this winter.

1. Stay active in cold weather

It’s tempting to stay indoors in the winter but keeping physically active is crucial for keeping your immune system strong and your spirits up. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. It can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems including stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls, as well as controlling your weight.

So instead of hibernating on the sofa, take yourself or your family out for a bracing winter walk or try a new outdoor activity. If it's very cold, wear a scarf over your mouth to warm the air before it enters your lungs.

The NHS has some good tips on staying active and how much exercise you should be doing.

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2. Catch up on sleep

On average we sleep six-and-a-half hours a night, much less than the seven to nine hours recommended, according to The Sleep Council, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of a good night's sleep. Winter can give us the opportunity to get some early nights, but it’s important to try to keep regular hours.

Create a restful, dark sleeping environment and make sure your bed is comfortable. Eating too much close to bedtime may prevent sleep onset, or cause discomfort, and drinking alcohol interferes with the body’s natural sleep patterns.

3. Eat plenty of fruit and veg

Make sure you are eating plenty of vitamin-rich foods and at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. When it's cold and dark outside it’s often tempting to turn to unhealthy comfort food, but a healthy diet is even more important during the winter months to keep you at optimum health.

If you find yourself craving a sugary treat, try fruit instead, or make sure you have some dried fruits such as dates or raisins in the larder.

4. Wash your hands more often

It sounds obvious but washing your hands is the number one way to stop the spread of germs. Experts recommend washing your hands every few hours, as well as after using the toilet and before meals.

Also give your hands a wash after touching someone else’s phone or keyboard at work, or travelling on public transport. And make sure you’re using the correct hand-washing method with advice from the NHS.

5. Stay hydrated

Drink around eight glasses of water each day, experts advise. This is especially true in winter as drinking water boosts your immune system.

If cold water seems unappealing when it’s cold outside you can drink warm water, which is great for digestion, or try water with a slice of lemon or cucumber. The moisture will also help make mucous membranes, including those in your sinuses, more resistant to bacteria.

6. Have a ‘winter clean’

It’s good to get your house in order to help maintain your health, so get all the family involved in household chores. Remove any winter mould from your environment as it can trigger nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, respiratory infections and worsen asthma and allergic conditions.

7. Stop smoking

Smokers are far more susceptible to upper respiratory infections, which tend to strike in winter. Even if you’re ‘only a social smoker’, now is a good time to quit and get your lungs working better for the winter months. The NHS has lots of free support to help you quit smoking.

8. Reach for the ‘super foods’

Green vegetables, specifically cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, offer the most protection against winter illnesses – as well as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.  Other superfoods include whole grains, nuts and berries.

Most foods high in antioxidants are also high in fibre, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and a good source of vitamins and minerals. Foods rich in antioxidants such as blueberries will boost your immune system, as will garlic, often dubbed ‘nature’s penicillin’. Some alternative health practitioners recommend eating at least two cloves of raw garlic a day.

9. Drink more tea

Green tea, in particular, contributes many protective phytochemicals. Studies have shown that some polyphenol compounds from green tea possess anticancer activities, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG); this is a particularly potent antioxidant, which is abundant in green tea.

10. Improve mental wellbeing

Increasingly, research suggests our mental health can have a huge effect on our physical health. Mental health charity Mind suggests five steps to improve your happiness and overall wellbeing:

  • Connect with others
  • Be active
  • Keep on learning new skills
  • Give to others – even if it’s just a smile – and
  • Take notice, becoming more aware of the world around you and your place in it.

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